With rumours linking Chelsea to several AS Roma players, and vice versa -- Radja Nainggolan, Miralem Pjanic, Kostas Manolas vs. Mohamed Salah, Branislav Ivanovic ... and Ruben Loftus-Cheek? -- when Giallorossi sporting director Walter Sabatini was spotted in front of Stamford Bridge last week, it only added further fuel to the fire. Hard to deny rumors when your club's director of football is literally standing in front of doors emblazoned with Chelsea badges.
Of course, other than the people involved in the negotiations, nobody really knows what Sabatini was talking about with the Chelsea brass. This is the line of defense employed by another Roma director, Mauro Baldissoni, when pressed about these rumors on Italian television.
"Just because someone takes a photo while you're at Chelsea, people assumed all sorts of things. They don't know he could've visited Arsenal, Tottenham and other clubs to find out who is on the market and who isn't."
"Besides, [Sabatini] was there accompanied by Mohamed Salah's agent and that is a player we will be buying outright this summer. The media have been saying for four years that we have to sell big stars."
"There's nothing indispensable. A player could be sold to bring in fresh funds and sign different figures, but it would in any case be a choice. We will make choices within the club with the perspective of Coach and players to see how we can reinforce and improve Roma. It is very reductive for the media to claim we are forced to sell players every transfer window."
-Mauro Baldissoni; source: Mediaset Premium via Football Italia
Baldissoni has every right to be angry at reports making a big deal out of Sabatini's visit to Chelsea, but surely he knows by now that this is just the nature of modern football media -- and even media in general, so to speak. And using Salah as cover, when his sale to Roma had been confirmed by Roma themselves in the fall, is a bit weak as well. Surely, if there's anything left to sort out there, it doesn't require a personal visit from the Roma sporting director.
While most rumors were convinced that Nainggolan was the primary aim of Sabatini's visit, other stories since have dropped a few more names into the equation. Roma had ruled out Pjanic's sale earlier, but center back Manolas remains a supposed Chelsea target. Meanwhile, some rather dubious rumors from Italy claim that Roma themselves could be interested in either Ivanovic or perhaps the youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek, maybe on loan, perhaps as a way to sweeten some deal between the two clubs?
Something's certainly afoot here, and I doubt it only involves some dotting of the i's and crossing of the t's regarding the Salah sale.